By Jason Shoff
Occasionally my office will play some pretty cool music. Yes, every once in a while I’ll have to suffer through a Top-40 channel, or some horrid EDM station that makes me wish I could puncture my eardrums with an ice pick. But then every so often my boss will also turn on SiriusXMU’S Blog Radio, giving us a chance to listen to music recommended by such “hip” blogs as Aquarium Drunkard, Gorilla vs. Bear and My Old Kentucky Blog (FYI, SiriusXM, if you’re somehow reading this, give us a call: I think we could create a show that could rival any blog out there).
Now last month, as we were listening to one of these radio shows, I suddenly heard a terrific piece of pop rock that sounded totally new to me, yet incredibly familiar at the same time. It was like the perfect mix of Big Star power pop, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers jangle rock and Beatles melodicism, played with a tinge of Strokes garage rock edge. I immediately whipped out my new favorite friend, Shazam, and discovered that it was a song called “Dust in the Sky” by a band called EZTV, who I had never even heard of before. So I looked on Spotify to see if their album was available to stream, but sadly it wasn’t coming out until a month later, so I made a note of it and went on with the rest of my day.
Then a week later I noticed that the album was available to review for this blog, so I immediately claimed it and crossed my fingers in the hope that the rest of the record would be just as joyous as the single. Well I’m pleased to report that the rest of their album, Calling Out, does not disappoint. In fact, it’s easily one of the best records of the year so far.
The promotional material I received for the album certainly marked off most of the bullet points that both indie rock and power pop fans look for in an up-and-coming band. Humble beginnings as a Tascam 8-Track home recording project of songwriter Ezra Tenenbaum? Check. A musician (in this case their drummer) who was formerly part of an indie rock darling band (in this case Widowspeak)? Check. Their debut album recorded in Brooklyn, one of the hipster capitals of the world? Check. Yet details like these, as well as mentioning such pop rock stalwarts as The Shoes, Emitt Rhodes and Cleaners for Venus in their press release, are no guarantee that the album itself will be any good. In fact, this much name-dropping is usually a way for a band to get as many people to listen to their album as possible, instead of letting the music speak for itself.
Yet what makes EZTV stand out from the rest of the power pop pack is that the band has a keen sense of both melody and songcraft, which is key to the success of an album like Calling Out: the references to their idols that abound in their production and arrangements are not a hindrance to the tunes, as the songs are strong enough that they can stand on their own without them.
This is instantly clear right out of the gate with opening track “Bury Your Heart,” a terrific slice of acoustic pop rock that sounds like it could be a Traveling Wilburys outtake, in no small part thanks to Tenenbaum’s George Harrison-esque voice. The following track, “Pretty Torn Up,” has a bit more of a bite to it, sounding like someone took a Byrds rocker and added some of Neil Young’s biting guitar leads from his Buffalo Springfield days on top. Then it’s a turn into the ‘70s with the mid-tempo number “The Light,” which sounds exactly like something you’d hear on an A.M. Gold compilation, flanged guitars and all.
After three straight classic rock sounding opening tracks, the album then starts to sound like a lost Big Star record. The upbeat acoustic “Hard to Believe” could fit comfortably on Radio City, while “Everything Was Changing” sounds like the best elements of #1 Record wrapped up in one song, complete with “jingle jangle” guitars, a Beatlesque chorus, and a melodic yet stinging guitar solo. Following track “Soft Tension” sounds like an exercise in psychedelic balladry that serves as a nice breather before the aforementioned “Dust in the Sky.”
EZTV then manage to create a very unique sound with “Blue Buzz,” sounding like something I would call “conquistador rock,” in the sense that its sense of drama makes me picture something a hippie bullfighter might listen to before getting into the ring. Ironically, this song is followed by the most overtly Beatles-sounding tune on the entire record, “Trampoline,” which sounds like Tenenbaum took a good listen to A Hard Day’s Night before writing it. However, EZTV saved the best tune for last with closing-number “That’s Where You Belong,” which is also the most single-sounding song on the entire record, as well. Not only is it instantly catchy, but it’s so perfectly written that it sounds like EZTV managed to capture the best of what power pop has to offer all in one timeless track. If you’re going to put one tune on your Spotify playlist, make it this one.
Now in my review for The Furious Seasons’ album, I said that every summer should have its own soundtrack. Well this album will more than likely be mine, as it’s the perfect music to listen to on a sunny day, or to pump up on the car radio as you roll the windows down and feel the breeze blowing through your hair. And if you’re a fan of toe-tapping rock that’s instantly catchy and melodic, it should be yours, too. Especially if you’re a lover of all things ‘70s, as it will take you to an alternate universe where Cheap Trick have the number-1 hit on the radio, Badfinger are a household name, and Big Star are still pumping out tunes and kicking out the jams.